Armed insurrections against the year-old pro-Soviet government of Afghanistan have intensified in recent weeks and have now been reported in 23 of the country's 28 provinces, according to analysts here.
While it is unclear how much territory the rebel tribesmen actually hold, State Department sources report that regular Afghan Army troops are having trouble dislodging insurgents from two areas in the eastern part of the country near the Pakistan border-the Kunar River Valley and Paktia district.
The rebel groups appear to lack unity, however, leading American and foreign diplomats here to believe they are unlikely to topple the government of President Nur Mohammed Taraki in the near future.
"Every rebel leader wants to be number one," said one American specialists.
Nonetheless, experts here are concerned that the spreading rebellions in the remote and rugged mountains and valleys of Afghanistan could explode into another confrontation between the major powers in the instable "arc of crisis" that stretches from the Horn of Africa through Yemen and Iran to Afghanistan.
The Soviets are so heavily involved there, with more than 1,000 advisers and increasingly heavy shipments of military hardware, that the Carter administration views of Afghanistan as another example of Moscow's international aggressiveness-along with recent actions in Vietnam, Yemem and Ethiopia.
Yet some American diplomats believe Afghanistan can become the Soviet Union's Vietnam, with the inhospitable terrain and the militantly independent nature of the people there defeating the Soviets the way they upset the aims of British empire builders a century ago.
In the one uprising in an urban setting-the ancient trading city of Herat, where the Soviet, Iranian and Afghan borders meet-Soviets were reportedly singled out for attack.
There have been reports of anywhere from 60 to 100 Soviets killed in Herat, and one witness has told the State Department of a Russian being beaten and then savagely killed in Herat.
Reuter news agency quoted Western diplomats in the Afghan capital of Kabul as saying the Soviets have sent women and children home and the advisers have abondoned their homes for cramped quarters within the embassy compound.
The Soviets, though, appear unwilling to give up their toehold in the region and have accused China, Pakistan and the United States of aiding the rebels.
These charges have been strongly denied, but it is no secret that rebel groups have set up headquarters in neighboring Pakistan and are mounting hit-and-run raids across the border.There is no evidence, though, of strong coordination between the different tribal factions in Pakistan even though they have established a united front in the border city of Peshawar.
Peshawar is a rumor mill, with the factions there running what one State Department specialist called "a war of mimeograph machines," claiming credit for battles inside Afghanistan that may or may not ever have been fought.
Hard information is difficult to come by. Diplomats in Afghanistan are restricted to the area of Kabul and there are few trustworthy firsthand accounts of rebel activities. Sophisticated electronic intelligence gathering is also unless since there is little radio communication between rebel groups that can be intercepted and analyzed.
One second-hand account of some of the fighting came from Richard Strand, an American anthropologist who did his doctoral dissertation on the Nuristani tribesmen of northeast Afghanistan, Strand, who just returned from that area, said he got his accounts from Nuristani friends who crossed into Pakistan to see him.
He reported that Nuristanis fought heavy battles with regular Afghan troops "who used every weapon the Russians have given them." But the tribesmen ambushed the troops from the rocky hills overlooking the roads, using weapons captured from a small government border outpost in Kamdesh, weapons that were more sophisticated than the homemade rifles they started out with.
Farther south, Baluchi tribesmen are also waging a hit-and-run war against the Afghan government, according to State Department sources.
While there is a strong religious element to the rebellion from Moslem tribesmen who fear that the pro-Soviet government will curtail their rights to practice Islam, analysts here believe the uprisings have been fueled by attempts by the narrowly based Taraki government to impose its control over the country.
"Every Afghan government has had the problem of tribal insurgency which it has met with a combination of force and bribes to the tribal leaders," said one specialist.
This government, however, is stronger on force than on politics as it tries to impose its will on the far-flung tribal groups, the specialist said.